The Monochrome Set - Maisieworld - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Monochrome Set - Maisieworld

by Bill Golembeski Rating:8 Release Date:2018-02-09
The Monochrome Set - Maisieworld
The Monochrome Set - Maisieworld

“Don’t ski naked down Mt. Everest/With lilies up your nose/Don’t punt up the Ganges in a vest/And holler ‘Thar she blows’” 

These are just two of the “don’ts” from The Monochrome Set’s 1981 single “Ten Don’ts for Honeymooners.” And this sort of lyric pretty much sums up the band’s ethos, and gets at the core of their appeal. They were quirky, absurd, often dark, tribal, and a bit campy. Go back to the late 70’s and early 80’s when a lot of the music was intense stuff. It was great, but it was intense. Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Magazine’s “Permafrost,” The Clash’s “White Riot,” The Cure’s “Hanging Garden,” PIL’s “Death Disco,” The Pop Group’s “We Are All Prostitutes,” and of course Siouxie and the Banshees’ “The Lord’s Prayer,” will never exactly be called jaunty.

Enter The Monochrome Set with their sound that was just a lot of fun, albeit often rather dark fun. The title of their first album, Strange Boutique, was apt in the sense that their music was a little shop that sold china cups, antique tables, and strawberry jam and all the different varieties, along with much stranger stuff in the the back recesses of the store. They always reminded me of The Kinks, circa Something Else or The Village Green Preservation Society, not that their music was similar, but rather both bands produced melodic and oddly catchy tunes in the midst of their other heavy-duty rock ‘n’ roll compardres. Lyrically, too, both bands were fairly esoteric. The Kinks sang about “roast beef on Sundays,” while Bid and Lester Square gave advice to “honeymooners.”

By the way, said newlyweds should also take heed and “Don’t fish for tunny in meat Madras/With blotting pads as bait/Don’t converse with shrimps of higher class/About church and state.”

Quite frankly, I lost track of the band after Eligible Bachelors. Apparently, I missed several albums with various line ups. Thankfully, the Recall History Chaps filled in a few gaps. But now there’s Maisieworld, a record that continues in the quirky, absurd, often dark, tribal, and a bit campy tradition. Lester Square is no longer in the band, but Bid’s vocals and guitar work have lost none of their earlier charm. Andy Warren is the ever-present bass player. Mike Urban returns to the band on drums, and John Paul Moran handles the keyboards. 

Fans of the band’s first three albums won’t be disappointed. The first song “Give Me Your Youth” has a creepy bassline, an odd lyric, and the guitar solo gets jazzy. “Stage Fright” creates an Eastern psychedelic vibe that has always been part of the band’s sound. (Remember “B-I-D Spells Bid” from Love Zombies.)  And horns make a first appearance. “I Feel Fine Really” is brisk with fast chords until the piano and guitar play a bluesy duet. “Cyber Son” gets heavy with a deep 70’s riff. And there are more horns. This is clever and vital rock music. 

And, just in case there are wedding plans in the future, “Don’t dance a polka in a dhoti/Arid whistle the Rite of Spring/Don’t recite Hamlet’s soliloquy/While munching onion rings.”

It’s nice to say nothing has really changed. Oh, Bid’s voice has dropped a bit. The guitar may be a tad more rock oriented, in contrast to Lester Square’s idiosyncratic playing.  But this is still the band that can sing with happy conviction, “yi yi yip, yip yippee yole.”

So, the world is sort of all right for a while. And to quote this new record, “I feel fine. I feel fine. I feel fine. I’m feeling fine.”

Not only that, but to newlyweds everywhere, always remember “Don’t plant a stickleback in a field/On St. Augustine’s Day/Don’t sharpen your sword and beat your shield/And somersault up a brae.”

Of course, there’s more. There’s always more. “Don’t Wear That Look” has nothing to do with honeymoons, but it does have a great melody that smacks of a 60’s hit single. It’s also the song that comes closest to the quick-step pseudo Caribbean surfer style of those early records.  And then “Mr. Robot” gets weird and, quite frankly, is a bit like “Viva Las Vegas.” So, yeah, the band has lost none of its campy attitude. Speaking of weird, “Oh Yes I’m Going to Be in Your Dreams Tonight” is horror movie soundtrack material with heavy organ, spooky vocal, and a sinister guitar solo. Then “Shallow” slows things up a bit. But really, this song, like the rest of the record recalls the melodic and concise construct of great songs from the time when the pop charts allowed themselves to have, well, great pop songs.

Now, I may be wrong, but I do believe these guys were the only band ever to successfully use the word dhoti in a rock song, much less suggest the dangers in dancing a polka in one.

And, they also warned, “Don’t build a pyramid on a pole/With Frosties packets and glue/Don’t serve rubber bullets in a bowl/And call it Irish Stew.”

I guess, if Bid says so.

The final songs are “Silence Is Rusty” and the title track “Maisieworld.” “Silence” rolls along nicely with an urgent chorus that does recall the vocals of Sir (as of 2017) Raymond Douglas Davies, a wah-wah guitar, and even more horns. “Maisieworld” is in the tradition of Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” or, Sir Raymond’s own “Mirror of Love” from The Kinks’ Preservation Act 2. So, well, it’s English music hall stuff.

This new record won’t punch the band’s ticket into The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of fame. They had fans back then, and, perhaps, they will draw a few more into the fold. Just in case you are interested, Strange Boutique was listed as the 5,496th greatest album ever on some on-line site. Ryan Adams’s self-titled record beat it to the punch by one notch, but Boutique elbowed Roxette’s Tourism into the 5,497th slot. So good for them.

But, you know, and this has bugged me for years. That single “Ten Don’ts for Honeymooners” actually included eleven “don’ts” and one “never.” Yeah, “Don’t change water into wine/And walk on the Dead Sea/Never sing the Song of the Golden Rhine/With an augmented flea.”  Well, perhaps this band does    whatever it so desires, and they aren’t “like everyone else.”

But they did want to “kick Mars into a black hole” and “spread plum jam on a Denning’s rolls.” And that’s exactly what they have done here, by making a nice pop rock record while spreading the message that plum jam may, indeed, be the secret source of just enough wisdom to truly enjoy a honeymoon, and like an ever-spinning record, continue to enjoy the music of that honeymoon way past the final grooves of its 45 rpm radio-friendly pop playing time. And that wisdom, like this album, is a pretty good thing.

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